Man with the Screaming Brain
Director: Don Coscarelli

Director: Bruce Campbell

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Bubba Ho-TepBruce Campbell, beloved as the star of the Evil Dead cycle, did a great job in Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). His Elvis impersonation pretty much has to carry the film, & he very nearly succeeds.

Don Coscarelli was the director of the Beastmaster & Phantasm franchises. With this first "Bubba" film he may have been on the trail of a third francise, with a prequel, Bubba Nosferatu, announced in 2005, but long delayed.

In a story based on a tale by movies-influenced horror fictioneer Joe R. Landsdale, Bruce's Elvis Presley is locked up in an elder care home for mentally ill oldfolks, somewhere in rural Texas. Elvis's best friend is an aging John F. Kennedy, played with tragic whimsey by the late great Ossie Davis.

The two of them are about to be confronted by ancient Egyptian evil. No one is going to believe anything said by two loony old geezers, so if their fellow nursing home residents are to be saved, it's up to maybe-actual Elvis & severely deluded JFK.

There's considerable humor in heading off to fight a monster in one's wheelchair, but underneath the slapstick there is also a serious story about the fate of the elderly in America.

It's too bad there wasn't a little more imagination in the monster portion of the story, for alas the shambling actor in a cheap costume isn't much. Even so, if Campbell's aged Elvis & Ossie's Jack Kennedy are the only things the film delivers with any panache, that's enough to make it worth viewing. But one can't help but lament the film it might have been if the poorly designed monster wasn't so clunky one-note ordinary.

Man with the Screaming Brain While awaiting the long-promised prequel to Bubba Ho-tep, there've been some other small films to excite us Bruce Campbell fans, notably Man with the Screaming Brain (2005), directed & co-written by Bruce himself, so well serving his capacity for the physical humor thang.

That it took him nineteen years to get the funding suggests that the powers that be don't think as highly of his talent as do his fans, but at least it got made.

A Bulgarian gypsy woman (Tamara Gorski), exotic & beautiful, is rejected by an American dork looking for a bride. So she kills him. Good for her.

Man with the Screaming Brain then introduces us to William Cole (Campbell) & his wife Jackie (Antoinette Byron) as they arrive in Bulgaria. They scare a Russian cabby named Yegar (Vladimir Kolev) who speaks English, so they keep him around as guide. Yegar turns out to be more than he appears -- even gypsy gangsters fear him.

William's an ugly-american type, C.E.O. of a big drug company. The local mad scientist, Dr. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Stacy Keech, always a fine actor whether the role is comedic or dramatic), assisted by his inbred lab assistant Paval (Ted Raimi in a splendid comic performance, coming off as a new "Ernest," i.e., Jim Varney), hopes to make a big connection with the American businessman. When William can't be bothered, the mad scientist finds novel ways of not taking no for an answer.

The killer gypsy girl Tatoya is a hotel maid where William & Jackie are staying. She's still hoping to catch an American husband & doesn't plan to let it be a problem if he already has a wife. Complications arise in that Tatoya turns out to be Yegar's ex mistress, so when it comes time to kill Jackie & smash in William's head, why shouldn't she just shoot Yeger while she's at it.

The mad scientist "rescues" Jackie's corpse. His lab assistant Pavel, who has built himself a sex robot, puts Jackie's brain in that as the only way to keep her alive. Meanwhile the mad scientist, always well-meaning, takes what's left of Yegar's brain & grafts it onto what's left of William's brain, to get one whole brain with two personalities, Yager controlling the left, William the right.

From then on William & Yegar wage a slaptstick battle for dominance over the body, while the Jackie-bot escapes to seek revenge against Tatoya.

The make-up design for Bruce Campbell's grafted head is wonderfully gross & funny. The physical humor isn't nearly as good as when Bruce played Ash in the Evil Dead films, & the Jackie sexbot is actually funnier than brain-graft-man, surprising because Bruce is in general a great physical comic yet he's upstaged in this.

At least one Evil Dead gag (attacked by his own hand) gets replayed in Man with the Screaming Brain. Overlooking the fact that the film is decidedly racist against gypsies, it's by & large genuinely funny, & perfectly cast. The contrived happy ending makes for a pretty lousy conclusion, but it's such an upbeat sort of horror film, I suppose they couldn't wiggle out of an upbeat finale.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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